Councillor questions $450,000 rec centre ‘discrepancy’
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
TOODYAY ratepayers will not know the final cost of the shire’s new $14.5 million recreation centre until next month after a $450,000 “overspend” was questioned at last month’s shire council meeting.
Cr Mick McKeown asked where the extra money had come from, why it was needed and questioned other discrepancies in shire accounts, including a failure to submit monthly statements of financial activity to the council for last July and August.
He asked if the shire had breached local government law and for Shire CEO Suzie Haslehurst to reveal the outcome of an internal shire audit conducted last May.
Ms Haslehurst said the audit had not identified any anomalies or unusual payments and further answers would be given at the council’s April 27 meeting.
She told The Herald later that the delays and discrepancies were due to flaws in the shire’s new computerised accounts system.Read more
The software was purchased by a previous council in 2018 from a New Zealand supplier with limited knowledge of WA local government finance reporting needs.
Its only other WA client at the time was the Shire of Manjimup which had experienced similar difficulties.
The Toodyay installation started in December 2019 – six months before Ms Haslehurst was appointed new CEO – and was due to be fully operational by last December.
The roll-out for shire income and expenditure occurred over several months but the new system was found to be unable to produce adequate financial reports.
“The original change management plan for a project of this scale was flawed,” Ms Haslehurst said.
“The rates module was quite complex and required greater understanding by the developers than they had envisaged.
“We went live with payroll and payments to creditors in July 2020.
“It includes security-level checks and balances to prevent fraud and misuse of funds – from that perspective, the system is robust.
“However, the ability to generate reports in the format required does not exist.
“What would normally take a day or two at the most is taking hundreds of hours of staff time to produce manually.
“That is why we are unable to produce a final accurate cost for the recreation centre.
“We have held weekly meetings with the software developers for several months and shire staff speak to their people every day.
“Thousands of hours have been spent on this – the company is paying to fix it up.
Ms Haslehurst told councillors last month that an interim audit by the State Auditor-General was likely to raise the shire’s failure to produce statements of financial activity last July and August as a breach of local government law.
She said the WA Local Government Department was aware that the shire was undergoing a complex and difficult transition to its new accounting software.
“Officers will liaise with the department regarding the consequences of this breach,” Ms Haslehurst said.
Cr McKeown said he looked forward to his questions being answered next month.